One of the things I love about reading biographies and watching biopics is how fascinating people’s real lives are. You couldn’t make this stuff up. And in the tradition of the Crown/Monarchy getting in the way of True Love and pressure to abdicate, we have a wonderful adaptation of the true story of English rose Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike – love her) and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) the heir to a tribal crown of Bechuanaland (Botswana).
Khama is studying law in London in 1947 when he and Ruth fall madly in love and despite objections from everyone –his family and tribe, her parents who disown her, they marry and return to his homeland. Bechuanaland is under British protection, which sits uneasily and the fabulous villain of the film – the British bureaucrats (props to Jack Davenport now an expert at the smug British fop) – rule through the native tribal council. It’s an unhappy reception upon their return and the stark contrast to foggy London to the vast, red African landscape is jarring but appropriate to story unfolding especially with the winds of change sweeping across the Empire.
I last saw David Oyelowo in Selma as Martin Luther King and he, again, is a wonderful regal presence on screen and demonstrates a genuine humility as man desperately in love with the “wrong” woman. Rosamund Pike is perfectly cast in the role of Ruth and her evolution from awkward, slightly dowdy girl into strong and graceful tribal Queen is a highlight of the film for me. Lady Edith from Downton Abbey (Laura Carmichael) as her devout sister makes the most of her screen time.
Maybe it’s because I recently binged-watched The Crown, but I found the comparisons to the new monarch Elizabeth very effective. Costumes are also fab.
For those other History Tragic’s like myself it’s a great snapshot of post-World War II Britain and the machinations of a changing government caught between its historic past and unknown future.
This film could easily be trite but it’s a true story well told with an uplifting ending. This had everything I like in a film – good story, history, wonderful characters who made a real difference in a positive way. Get a big bag of popcorn for this one.
A United Kingdom opens on Boxing Day.